Winston Churchill once said that “history is written by the victors.“But there are many failures of yesterday that have shaped today’s successes. Whether or not you like to study the subject, you really can’t do without it, because we are surrounded by anecdotes from the past. Yesterday’s realities make today’s stories, and that’s why museums are so popular with crowds. They show what our past was like, where we came from and where we are going. If we’ve piqued your interest, here’s our rundown of the best history museums in London:
This world-famous place takes you through two million years of human, artistic and cultural history. Home to eight million objects from around the world, the British Museum is truly spellbinding. It is home to over 120 mummies and many Egyptian relics including the Rosetta Stone, the Elgin Marbles from Ancient Greece’s Parthenon, the Oxus Treasure, mosaics from Roman Britain, samurai armor and the carved lion hunts of Archaic Assyria.
Founded in 1753, the British Museum is one of the best history museums in London and probably the best in the whole country. It was the first national museum in the world when it opened in the 18th century, and it is truly awe-inspiring – the hall of glass and steel and the promise of solving some of the earliest mysteries known to mankind are certainly palpable here.
Its different wings are divided according to location and period of history. Each of the sixty galleries is dedicated to world history, for example Ancient Greece, Egypt, Africa, Iran, Roman Britain and China since 5000 BC.
You will find the British Museum on Great Russell Street, WC1B 3DG. The nearest stations are Russell Square, Goodge Street, Holborn and Tottenham Court Road.
2. Natural History Museum
Do you think two million years is a long, long time? How about 150 million years? The Natural History Museum displays more than 80 million specimens of flora, fauna, fossils and rocks. It is an unparalleled paradise for those who get the goosebumps from discovering the creatures that roamed the earth millions of years ago, and it promotes and supports excellent discoveries in taxonomy and biodiversity. Some of its exhibits like the Wildlife Garden, the Life and Earth Galleries can’t help but
You enter admiring the twenty-five meter long skeleton of the Blue Whale suspended from the ceiling before delving into the world of Mother Nature’s early years on the planet. A 147-million-year-old Archeopteryx, pigeons belonging to Charles Darwin, animatronic dinosaurs, a huge redwood tree and the extinct dodo will keep you hooked.
Then you are greeted by the remnants of the eruption of Vesuvius, a life-size model of the human fetus, the earthquake simulator and the largest gold coin found on the planet. The Natural History Museum opened to the public in 1881. It’s home to all things naturally archaic, including Dippy the Diplodocus, London’s beloved dinosaur.
You will find the Natural History Museum at Cromwell Road, SW7 5BD. Call 020 7942 5000 for any enquiries. The nearest station is South Kensington.
3. Museum of London
Let’s move on from nature history to the Vikings, the Great Fire, the Blitz and everything else you know or don’t know about London. The Museum of London features stories from every corner of the city and holds the title of being one of the greatest urban history museums on the planet.
In the exhibition of seven million objects and artefacts you will find all the stories about the city and its past, including the transformation under the rule of the Romans and Saxons, the medieval period and the tumultuous years of the plague , civil wars and the Great Fire of London too. If that doesn’t excite you enough, then the fossils of hippos walking through central London 125,000 years ago surely will.
Highlights include the cauldron designed by Thomas Heatherwick for the London Olympics, suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst’s hunger strike medal and Oliver Cromwell’s death mask. Registration is also free – win, win!
You will find the Museum of London at 150 London Wall, Barbican, London, EC2Y 5HN. The nearest train station is Barbican.
4. Victoria and Albert Museum
Each creation is part of the story. Even the decor, innovations and designs. And that’s what the Victoria and Albert Museum celebrates. It is one of the most incredible art museums in the world, housing around three million objects illustrating the evolution of human creativity over the past 5,000 years. Also known as the V&A, the museum is named after Queen Victoria and her Prince Albert.
What started as a museum of makers in 1852 has become a guardian for all forms of art, including the world’s oldest Ardabil rug, a 3D printed piece of Extinction Rebellion, the rock crystal ewer and Chinese porcelain, lacquerware, ceramics and glassware. Believe it or not, the V&A also carries Mary Quant’s short skirts from the Swinging Sixties!
You will find the Victoria and Albert Museum at Cromwell Road, SW7 2RL. The nearest station is South Kensington.
5. Imperial War Museum
History is incomplete without the mention of wars. And a roundup of London’s history museums is incomplete without mentioning an institution dedicated to the stories of the World War. Founded during World War I, the Imperial War Museum showcases all the tales and horrors of the battle.
It comprises a group of five museums built to recreate the memories of World War I and the Blitz, and convey the stories of people who have seen and experienced it all. The world-famous atrium, a burnt-out Baghdad car, a Holocaust exhibit and a glittering Spitfire adorn the grandeur of this institution of urban history.
But that’s not all. There are also exhibits on more recent acts of war, including 9/11, the Falklands, and North and South Korea. However, the Churchill War Rooms under Westminster might be the real highlight. Here you can see the former Prime Minister and his comrades plotting during World War II on a fifteen meter long table.
You will find the locations of all their museums on the website.
6. London Transport Museum
Motor vehicle enthusiasts, here it is! Because it is here that the origin and evolution of almost everything that drives in London is found. The London Transport Museum shows the journey of the transport system in the city over the past two centuries. An inspiring collection of over 80 vehicles and 500,000 objects like the locomotives that powered the world’s first underground steam trains, double-decker horse-drawn trams, 20th century posters, a scarlet Routemaster bus and decor of the tube above the years. You can also explore the padded cell – an 1890s train carriage.
Another great point on this journey through motorcycling history is the London by Design gallery. It features Harry Beck’s artwork, original advertising posters and groundbreaking London Underground map. And then, you can also see the transport logo evolving into a rosette.
You will find the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden Piazza, WC2E 7BB. The nearest station is Covent Garden.
7. Sir John Soane Museum
A museum is a place where history is legitimately and carefully preserved. It could also be someone’s original house, right? Sir John Soane designed famous architectural marvels like the Bank of England and the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Then, granting his last wish, his Georgian home was turned into a museum and bears his name after his death. The Sir John Soane Museum displays its collection, including the famous works of art by JMW Turner, an Egyptian tomb and a carved alabaster sarcophagus for Seti, the pharaoh between 1291 and 1278 BC.
The place is filled with historical anecdotes (although some might call it cluttered), and it was brilliantly designed by Soane to make use of every corner. For example, the walls open to reveal cupboards housing famous paintings by Hogarth, Canaletto and Turner, among many others.
You can find the Sir John Soane Museum at 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, WC2A 3BP. The nearest train station is Holborn.
So there you have it – if you’re looking to delve into the fascinating history of our capital, then this roundup of history museums in london is sure to keep you busy. Happy exploring!